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These Regeneron Science Talent Search Finalists have a way with words

By Rachel Myers

Daniel Larsen, a Regeneron Science Talent Search 2022 Finalist plays an online game of chess.
Daniel Larsen, a Regeneron Science Talent Search Finalist plays an online game of chess. Courtesy of Daniel Larsen

Their passions for science, technology, engineering and mathematics led them to become finalists in the Regeneron Science Talent Search. Along with their aptitude in STEM fields, many of these students have a way with words and puzzles, too. From crossword puzzle construction to Wordle and even competing on a trivia game show, these students can solve almost anything.

Take South Bloomington, Indiana finalist, Daniel Larsen — his love of crossword puzzles goes way back. “My family would sometimes solve crosswords. I was pretty little then, and I wasn’t very good at it,” he said in a recent interview with the New York Times. At 13, he became the youngest person to have a crossword puzzle published in the Times and since then has had 10 others published. He even teaches classes on constructing crosswords. He says, “Math and crosswords – they are not an obvious combination. I can’t exactly say why I’m drawn to both, but perhaps there is a connection. Math is about establishing order, about finding structure in a tangle of equations, about trying to understand what is really going on. And crosswords are pretty much that as well, with equations replaced by clues.”

Benjamin Choi
Potomac School (McLean, Virginia)

A self-proclaimed trivia nerd, Ben grew up watching the “It’s Academic” TV quiz show on NBC. His dream of competing on the show became a reality in 2020, thanks to his determination and team of classmates. “I dreamt of starting a team at Potomac,” he says. “I was finally able to start a team for the 2020 season and now we have competed multiple times (and won) on NBC.”

Steven Liu
Shady Side Academy (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

Steven loves solving puzzles so much, he decided to share it with his entire school by founding a puzzle club. From solving Wuzzles, to 3D metal puzzles, to forgetting Rubik’s Cube algorithms and finding his own solutions, Steven says he enjoys “relaxing while solving puzzles.”

Rishab Parthasarathy
The Harker School (San Jose, California)

Since a young age, Rishab has been introduced to several languages, which he believes are the reason he enjoys solving puzzles so much. “My family introduced me to several languages (English, Chinese, Tamil), igniting my creativity and risk-taking through puzzles like anagrams,” says Rishab. “I love spending my time solving puzzles (especially language puzzles like Wordle).”

Pravalika Putalapattu
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (Alexandria, Virginia)

Pravalika doesn’t think math needs to be so puzzling for everyone. “I see math as an avenue for creativity and exploration, but my non-math friends and my students at the local adult high school think it’s boring and terrible,” she says. “Some think math is unpopular because it requires critical thinking, and people are lazy. But people love critical thinking! Everyone loves spending hours conquering tricky video game levels and being challenged by the daily crossword.” Pravalika is working to make math more inclusive by creating diversity-themed puzzle hunts and escape rooms.

Neil Rathi
Palo Alto High School (Palo Alto, California)

Neil’s love language might be just that: languages. “I love basically anything related to words, whether it be reading, crosswords, learning languages that people don’t speak, or making really bad puns,” he says. Fueled by his desire for more New York Times mini crossword puzzles, Neil worked with editors for his school newspaper to create a crossword section. He now co-writes and edits crossword grids monthly.

Luke Robitaille
Robitaille Homeschool (Euless, Texas)

Along with his love for math, linguistics and chess, Luke enjoys constructing and solving crossword puzzles in his free time. “In particular, I like both cryptic and regular crosswords,” he says. In a regular crossword, each square provides a letter for both an across and down answer, while in a cryptic crossword, only about half the squares do this.

You can learn more about the 2022 Regeneron Science Talent Search finalists during a Virtual Public Exhibition of Projects event on March 13. The finalists will be available from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. ET to answer your questions and respond to your comments.